HC Deb 01 November 2001 vol 373 cc996-7
7. Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden)

What steps she is taking to improve protection of consumers. [9554]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Miss Melanie Johnson)

The Enterprise Bill will benefit consumers by strengthening the competition regime, introducing measures to take swift action against traders who do not comply with their obligations to consumers. The consumer credit review will ensure that consumers are adequately protected against unfair and exploitative lending practices, and consumer support networks across the country are making it easier for consumers to get quality advice and information.

Siobhain McDonagh

Will my hon. Friend specifically address the issue of car maintenance and repair? Many of my constituents who come to see me feel most vulnerable in that area and often pay large sums for poor work. What guarantees can she and the Government give that they will be better protected in future?

Miss Johnson

I entirely share my hon. Friend's concerns: £9 billion a year is spent on servicing and repairing our cars and consumers are far from confident that they are getting a fair deal. Our proposals include the promotion of minimum standards of customer service, improving the effectiveness of codes of practice, and advice to help consumers feel more confident and better informed in their dealings with garages, including a good garage scheme.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

But can the Minister confirm that over a quarter of a century has passed since the Conservative fair trading legislation:, that the previous Secretary of State's rip-off Britain campaign descended into farce, fiasco and failure and caused much needless offence to British industry; and that, despite a White Paper in the middle of 1999, we are unlikely to have legislation before next year at the earliest? When are this Government going to take the needs of British consumers seriously instead of relying on cheap soundbites?

Miss Johnson

The House will judge where the cheap soundbites are coming from.

This is the first full-scale review of the consumer credit legislation in more than 25 years. For much of that period, there were Governments of the hon. Gentleman's persuasion in office, yet they did nothing. We are aware that the laws are more than 30 years old and we are taking steps to introduce changes that will protect consumers and radically modify and modernise the regime. There are many measures in the Enterprise Bill, and many of the measures in the consumer White Paper have already been implemented.